It’s an Oscar nominated short film and yet I thank The Voorman Problem not for its entertaining wit or Martin Freeman‘s outburst of hilarity at its end, but instead for it cementing my need to start reading David Mitchell. Yes, the author of Cloud Atlas is the main inspiration behind director Mark Gill and cowriter Baldwin Li‘s movie courtesy of it being an adaptation of an excerpt from the novel number9dream. Detailing the encounter of a psychiatrist named Dr. Williams (Freeman) and an imprisoned patient who believes he is God (Tom Hollander‘s Mr. Voorman), the story set forth is a character actor’s dream of dryly black humor with a tinge of thought-provoking “huh?”
The problem with Voorman is not his supposed delusion, but actually the fact that he’s converted the entire populace of inmates into believing him. All Governor Bentley (Simon Griffiths) needs is for Williams to label the man insane so he can whisk him off to the asylum and never have to deal with his antics again. A consummate professional, however, the good doctor engages the mad man in a straightjacket much to the latter’s delight. Crazed or omniscient, the reaction is exactly what you’d expect. He’s either giddy at his insanity being tolerated by someone across the room or simply having a laugh as he forces one of his creations to dance with his every whim. And if Williams won’t believe him, well Voorman will just have to prove it. By making Belgium disappear.
It’s a brilliant farce taken to its extreme with two central roles fitting precisely in the wheelhouse of their respective performers. Hollander can’t help himself from flashing that sarcastically knowing smirk we’ve seen through ruthlessness in Hanna and bureaucracy in the Pirates films while Freeman’s everyman utilizes his trademarked speechless pause honed in “The Office” and still prevalent today in The Hobbit. If there is one thing wrong with the piece it is that it isn’t longer so their exchanges could stretch out into more “is it or isn’t it real” commentary until the truth can be revealed. But then it probably wouldn’t be as effective in its concise plot progression pitting true intelligence against a construct of the word. After all, “smart” is meaningless when the reality labeling it so isn’t a fixed one.